As Senator Michael Bennett sought to encourage a small crowd of fellow Democrats not to abandon the fight for abortion rights, Maria Lauer, on hand, stepped forward to urge him to do more.
“Do you support ending the obstruction and expanding the court?” The 28-year-old called out the quartet of fellow activists. The Democrats are not doing enough.
The standoff was a sign of frustration among many Democrats after the Supreme Court’s decision last month to strip women of the constitutional right to abortion. The question heading into this year’s midterm elections is whether the anger will motivate Democrats to vote or leave them frustrated and at home.
From rallies like those in Colorado Springs to the hallways of the White House, Democrats are pressing an urgent message that voters cannot give in. President Joe Biden, who often embraces Washington’s institutional tradition, last week called for an exception to the Senate’s 60-vote-holding rules to put Roe v. Wade into federal law.
But the president and his aides have rejected more dramatic steps such as adding additional justices to the Supreme Court or opening clinics on federal lands in states that prohibit the procedure. This has alarmed some in the party’s more active circles.
“People want to feel like you’re looking at every option,” said Brian Fallon of Demand Justice, a Democratic group advocating for the court’s expansion, which Biden rejected.
The party attempted to vote on abortion rights in federal law earlier this year, but the attempt was unsuccessful as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia sided with Republicans who opposed the bill. Manchin and Democratic Senator Kirsten Sinema of Arizona say they oppose an exception to the opt-out rule for abortion rights, and reiterated their position hours after Biden’s statement, making that impossible.
Instead, the Democrats’ message is shaping up to be: Elect more Democrats to protect abortion rights. However, that risks denting among Democrats who argue that emotional calls to vote hardly translate automatically to people doing what they are asked.
“There has to be some elaboration on what they will get for voting in the election,” said Theresa Ondem, a Liberal Democrat pollster. “People want to hear real strategy, they want to hear real results.”
The problem is that there may be no strategy that leads to real results other than winning the elections.
The party needs at least two senators to end stalling and voting on abortion rights, and many fear that even if this bill passes, the Supreme Court will simply overturn a law establishing a national right to abortion. Even drastic moves like filling the court with liberal judges – which are unlikely to pass anyway – will be only temporary victories, because the Republican Party can expand the court again once it gains power and add conservative justices.
However, many Democrats say they expect their voters to be angry with the latest decision. They argue that Biden has really limited options and that any despair about his inability to override the ruling will be overcome by Democratic anger against Republicans in November.
“All the data shows that the density of Democrats has increased significantly in the past few weeks,” said Simon Rosenberg of NDN, a Democratic think-tank. “People in the Democratic Party may be disappointed with their leaders, but they understand, more clearly than ever, the threat posed by the new right.”
Democrats have been preparing for a tough election for months, with several polls showing Biden’s approval low even among members of his own party. Traditionally, the president’s party in the midterm elections does not have the same motivation as the opposition party, which leads to huge losses for the supporters of the incumbent. Anger over the Supreme Court’s decision is a potential political lifeline for incumbents like Bennett of Colorado, if it doesn’t turn into apathy or desperation.
Although Bennett represents a country that has voted strongly for Democracy in several consecutive elections, he may still be weak in November if the wave of Republicans materializes. The Republican Party has nominated a competitor who, particularly for the Republican, would support a later ban on abortion, but otherwise support abortion rights.
Bennett relied on Colorado’s staunch support for abortion rights to win his previous election, knowing he could not stand the complacency or apathy among his voters.
During his speech at the June 29 rally in Colorado Springs, Bennett spoke about the Supreme Court’s ruling and addressed Democrats’ frustration and despair. He said, “Don’t give up.” “We cannot accept things as they are.”
After Bennett’s speech, when he joined the local Democratic candidates on stage in a show of party unity, Lauer and the others attacked. After speaking to reporters outside the theater, Bennett spoke with the protesters.
He told them he was also frustrated with the way his party had allowed things to get to the point where the Republican Party appointed a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court. He agreed with them to end the disruption and legalize Roe but opposed the court’s mobilization. If the Democrats do that, he said, “we will ensure that the majority in the Senate will be hostile to the right of choice.”
When protesters continued to be frustrated that Bennett would not agree to the mobilization in court, he advised them: “There are no 50 remote votes to do what you propose in the Senate.”
“Aren’t there 50 Democrats?!” cried one. Others demanded that Bennett use your “power” to change Manchin’s position.
Bennett had to leave, but a staff member stepped in and said Bennett couldn’t change Manchin’s position. She noted that the West Virginia senator, despite Bennett’s pleas, killed his token program, an extended child tax credit for parents.
As the crowd disintegrated, the sense of frustration was palpable. Several rally leaders approached Lauer and her companions to thank them for pushing Bennett. An attendee began shouting at the home of the local Republican Congressman, Representative Doug Lamborne, urging people to “make his life miserable.”
Lauer, who said she participated in the 2016 Bennett campaign, and others said they were unhappy with their time with the senator.
“If they continue to do what we’ve just seen, where they walk away, where they evade responsibility for the performance of their constitutional duties, I think that’s a great way to lose,” she said.
Another protester, Chauncey Johnson, 22, said he did not want the Republicans to win, but was considering withholding his vote due to his frustration with the party.
“I want the Democrats to wake up rudely,” he said.